Today, I saw a job request asking for a web developer to build a website that was on par with their competitors. It went something like this:
... We want a modern website that is on par with our competitors, here are their websites: A.com, B.com, C.com.
... we are ok with prebuilt themes... we just want a design and layout refresh...
Why do companies just want their brand to be on par with their competitors? Why don't they dream bigger?
Branding on the Web
A company's brand is so much more than just a logo, letterhead, and some catchy phrase. It encompasses so many aspects such as tone, user experience, consistency, and perception. When it comes to the web, it actually takes on an even greater focus on the content. What is a website for, anyway? It's for conveying information about your company, your projects, your team, your successes and accomplishments, your capabilities. What it is not about is just aesthetics. Yes, aesthetics is a factor to overall experience, but as the brutalist web design principle goes, form over function, and each additional design change should focus on solving a specific problem for the user.
In fact, piling on aesthetic design changes basically does nothing to a website, and often it can do more harm than good. It will neither help to make the user recognize the brand better, or improve client conversion. Imagine having animations on every single interaction, every click, every hover... shudders . Just because we can make things look cool doesn't mean we should.
Function over Form, Please
If I were the business owner, the very first thing that I would be focusing on is improving my current website's copy, to the point that on the cusp of perfection as the start of your sales funnel. Are your call to actions properly prompting and enticing users to carry on to the next step of the funnel?
How about the brand perception for new visitors to the website? What does the current copy convey about your brand? If you charge your customers a high premium for your products/services, would you want to be associated with a brand that feels cheap and just tries to be "on par"? Does the website convey sufficient premium-ness, be it through typography, aesthetic, or images used? Is your brand show that you're already in the big league, or does it just show that you're just trying to get past the qualifiers?
What about your brand mission and values? How can your customers know that what you believe in will align with their own? What does your company believe in, anyway? Can you identify it from scanning through your landing page? How does this differ from your industry and set you apart from the 1001 other competitors out there?
Mediocrity is About Standing in the Crowd
Being like the competition is not enough. If the competition has a slow and sluggish website, would you want to be like them? If they have a bad user experience and can't convey their value to their prospective clients, would you want to emulate them? You need to set yourself apart from the competition, to stand out from the crowd and not just do what everyone else is doing. There are thousands of firms out there in the world, doing exactly what you are doing. How can you show that you're one of a kind?
You know the answer? Yes, that's right. Through a kick-ass website. A website that loads content fast, is neither sluggish nor hostile for the user experience, is aesthetically suited for the brand perception, and has a great marketing copy.
A website is all about conveying your value proposition, and that's what you've got to tackle. Not a design refresh, not a layout change, not an off-the-shelf theme. You've got to tackle your perception.